Many months ago, Nikki had booked a tour of Versailles through airbnb. We knew in recent days that there was a strong chance of rain on the day of our tour so we made sure we had all the necessary provisions, just in case. Stu and Niki – our guides from Boutique Bike Tours – met our group at a train station in Paris and accompanied us all on the train to the delightful town of Versailles. Then we were split into two groups, provided with a bike each and rode through the streets of the town towards the Chateau of Versailles. Stu had moved with his family from England to Versailles as a boy and has lived in the town on and off since then. He also has studied French History and has a wealth of knowledge on all the Louis kings you care to mention. But most importantly, especially with light rain starting to fall, his tour fast-tracked us through a side entrance so we did not have to wait outside with the peasants (in the photo above you can see some of them waiting hopefully outside the gates with their cute little umbrellas).
Once inside, we learnt the history of why and how Versailles became the seat of power under the reigns of Louis XIV, XV and XVI. Starting with the Sun King, Louis XIV, his presence can been felt in almost every room – with paintings or sculptures to remind his foes of his power. His reign is the epitome of “keep your friends close and your enemies closer”. Stu kept reminding us how fortunate we were to be in the Chateau on this day as the crowds were comparatively small.
I’ll let the pictures tell the story but just to note that our good luck continued as on the day of our visit, the Queen’s rooms were reopened.
Stu was very good at monitoring the crowd flow and giving us more or less information as he felt would help us to see rooms to their best advantage. After leaving the Chateau, we all got on our bikes and rode back to Versailles to the market – awarded the best market in France! We bought our lunch supplies and then rode through the grounds of the “grand parc” (the petit parc encompasses the manicured grounds and the grand parc is then as far as the eye can see). We ended up back in the petit parc where we lunched by the grand canal.
In the first image, you can see the Chateau in the distance. Up until this point, Stu had been our guide, after lunch, he and Niki swapped groups and Niki took us onto the ‘petit trianon’ – a retreat used by some of the queens and mistresses, including Madame Pompadour. This is a photo taken in the grounds.
In a little rotunda is a statue of cupid commissioned by Marie Antoinette.
Speaking of the queen who may or may not have said “let them eat cake”, she was not well loved by the people or the court and so had a romantic Normandy farm built on the grounds to which she and her children could escape each day. Here we are standing by her little lake with the lighthouse and residence in the background.
Our sombre faces belie the fun we are having! We must be suffering from post-lunch something.
Then we were back on our bikes to stroll through the gardens of the petit parc.
It was a full day. We had met at the cafe near the metro before 8. 00 am and we were riding our bikes back to Versailles in time to catch the train back to Paris at 5. 30 pm.
I think I can speak for all in the group to say that it was a great day and way to visit the Chateau and the grounds.